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Fear of another spill in Visayan Sea raised

April 3, 2007

BY CARLA GOMEZ
Visayan Daily Star
April 3, 2007

THE oil on board the Solar 1 that sank off the coast of Guimaras has been removed but concern over future oil spills, especially in “particularly sensitive areas” like the Visayan Sea has been raised by the scientific community.

Rafael Coscolluela, Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas, said yesterday that the Visayan Sea, a passageway for vessels containing hazardous materials, including petroleum products, has been identified by the scientific community as home to particularly sensitive marine life areas.

Mark Phibbs, Sonsub Director for Special Operations, on Sunday announced that recovery ship Allied Shield had removed 9,000 liters of oil from the 10 tanks on board the Solar 1 and that no more oil was left in the sunken ship.

He also said that no oil was released into the environment during the retrieval operations.

Footage of the open hatches of all 10 tanks on board the Solar 1 were shown to the media yesterday as proof that they had been emptied.

The Allied Shield, a vessel of Sonsub, an Italian firm specializing in deepwater operations, was contracted by the Protection and Indemnity Club, insurer of the Solar 1, to retrieve the oil from a depth of 2,100 feet using Remotely Operated Vehicles.

Cost of the retrieval work had been estimated at $6 million but Phibbs said the amount would be less, since their work only lasted 21 days.

The ship had been carrying 2.1 million liters of Petron oil when it sank, the bulk of which is believed to have hit the coast of Guimaras while the rest dissipated while on the surface of the water, Coscolluela said.

Carlos Tan, Petron Health, Safety and Environment Manager, said the possibility that oil on board Solar 1 had been pilfered before it sank, has never been proven and they are leaving the matter to proper government authorities to address.

He also said that even before the retrieval operations their estimate of the spill based on satellite pictures was 1.6 million liters so the minimal amount recovered by the Allied shield did not come as a surprise.

Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Marañon said the minimal amount of oil found on Solar 1 indicates that it could have been near empty when it sank.

“I thought scientists were involved in the decisions and they made us believe that there was a lot of oil, that is why we panicked, but it was good that Negros Occidental was given financial assistance,” he said.

VISAYAN SEA BAN

Meanwhile, Coscolluela said there have been calls to ban ships carrying sensitive cargo from particularly sensitive areas such as the Visayan Sea.

However, he said the Department of Foreign Affairs is needed in this endeavor as sea routes cannot be changed without consulting all other countries.

The increase in expense of shippers taking different and longer routes could also impact on the cost of oil and other goods, he said, that has to be considered.

It was noted that while retrieval of oil from the Solar 1 was going on another cargo vessel, Prem Ship, on March 27 while passing through Guimaras waters from Davao to Bacolod released oil into the waters causing a sheen 100 meters by three nautical miles long, PSG Commodore Arturo Olavario said.

However, by the time the Coast Guard reached the area to get samples of the sheen it no longer had any oil content after dissipating on the surface of the water leaving them with no evidence to press charges, he said.

Coscolluela said they are still looking at the possibility of other oil spills, that is why the National Disaster Coordination Council is working on strengthening the country’s oil pollution contingency plan that hopefully will be in place in two to three year’s time.

He said the country’s oil pollution contingency plan has been focused on containment and control at sea, but is weak in dealing with oil that lands on shore as in the case of the Solar 1 incident.

This, he said, is now being addressed.

The capability of the Marine Industry Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard to regulate vessels carrying hazardous cargo is also being addressed.

The PSG’s ability to immediately respond with proper equipment and vessels has also been raised, and disaster preparedness of areas vulnerable to spills also needs to be beefed up, he said.

The implementation of the requirement for ships carrying oil to have double bottoms and double hulls by 2008 is also being addressed, he said.

Meanwhile, of the P816 million allocated by the national government for the Guimaras oil spill clean up, only P200 million has been released so far, Coscolluela said.

The release of a little over P600 million is still being awaited so rehabilitation work can start in earnest, he said.

Of the amount P250 million is needed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, P210 million by the Guimaras provincial government, P130 million by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for rehabilitation work, he said. Coscolluela said he did not have any explanation as to why the money has not been released by the Department of Budget and Management.

Petron, the owner of the oil on board Solar 1, has also been actively involved in the clean-up and rehabilitation of affected areas in Guimaras, Tan said.

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